HELLOWEEN – Guitarist Sascha Gerstner
INTERVIEW AND PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJALA
Helloween is a German metal band founded in 1984 in Hamburg. The band is one of the pioneers of power metal, and their albums KEEPER OF THE SEVEN KEYS I & II and THE TIME OF THE OATH are considered masterpieces of the genre. Throughout the years, the band has gone through numerous changes. Still, the current line-up of vocalist Andi Deris, guitarists Michael Weikath and Sascha Gerstner, bassist Markus Grosskopf and drummer Daniel Löble has been stable since 2005. The band started their ongoing MY GOD-GIVEN RIGHT world tour in June 2015, the circus made a stop in Finland in February.
I’ve interviewed almost all current and former members of Helloween during the years, but for one reason or another, I’ve always missed Sascha Gerstner. Fortunately, things now changed as I finally met with a good-humored Sascha at the hotel before the show. Among many topics, we discussed his long career with Helloween and many other things in general. Sascha turned out to be really genial and humorous person. I’m sure that some metal fans will find it surprising when they read about his musical influences and how his relationship was with Helloween and the whole metal genre before joining the band. Read on!
Let’s start with your history with the band. You joined the band in 2003 after Helloween producer Charlie Bauerfeind called and introduced you to guitarist Michael Weikath?
Sascha: Yeah, yeah. Exactly.
How did the story actually go back then?
Sascha: He called me up and asked me if he can hand out my number to Michael Weikath. He told me something like; Michael will call you maybe in the next two or three days or something. On this particular day, I had a date with some girl I wanted to meet, and he called me like after, Charlie – 30 minutes later. Here is Michael Weikath. I was like, just let me know what you want. Because I have a date, I must run. He was like, yeah. We can talk tomorrow or something. Later on, he told me that he was pretty impressed after receiving all these demo tapes of guitarists and stuff. That I basically told him this day to fuck off because I wasn’t into that music anymore by that time. So I was like in a totally different direction.
Yeah, before joining Helloween, you had played for a few years with Freedom Call, but you quit the band in 2001, and after that, you did completely different things, mainly producing work.
Sascha: Yeah, yeah. Then I could not imagine what’s going to happen now, and then we were on the phone for a couple of days. Then we found out that we like the same stuff and we have the same kind of humor. Then he told me,” we’re searching for a guitar player who is able to record an album with us.” So there was nothing about joining the band or something. It was more or less making an album together. Then he invited me to come over for a couple of weeks and to Tenerife to meet him. After four weeks, we ended up not playing the guitar once, and on the last day, we played guitar for 10 minutes. Then he was like, “That’s alright, that’s alright. I never wanted to have a guitar player anymore, as so good as you are. I always wanted to have someone who is shitty like me. Can we watch Shrek?” Then he went across the room, pulling out some Shrek DVD. Then we were starting watching Shrek, and that was the beginning of it all.
So it was important for him to find not just a good player but also a great personality?
Sascha: It was more important that we can get along and we have a sense of humor. For four weeks, we were doing bullshit every day, talking bullshit and having fun. Then, in the end, we figured that we had this kind of the same roots when it comes to guitar playing. We both love Michael Schenker. So we were also playing music to each other that we like and he’s very open-minded to the outside of the home show as well. Then, I’m in the band, and I figured when we had a photoshoot and video shoot. So till today, nobody asked me to join the band actually. So it kind of slipped in.
But you still get paid, so it seems that you are a member of the band? “Laughs”
Sascha: Yeah, obviously.
The time when you joined the band was a strange period in Helloween’s history. The band members changed, and there were some other changes as well, so it must have been a difficult time for the band?
Sascha: Yeah, yeah. It was hard to… In the beginning, there was no real band anymore, it was just Andi, Michael, and Markus trying to keep it all together, and of course, it takes some time to grow together and to be a real band. So we did the first record and the first tour, it took some time to grow together and become… First, you must tour together to become a real band. Also, for me, it was really hard, in the beginning, to adopt the whole scene again. Getting back into the scene and so on. And of course, also, I didn’t realize how huge the band is. So I knew them from school times, I knew them from magazines back in school. But since I wasn’t in that kind of music scene anymore. I didn’t know how good they’re doing and so on. It was like, I’m flying to Japan. Crazy, like the whole world, was changing when I was 25 years old. So everything was brand new and way bigger than I was used to be. So it took some time for me to… It was not like growing into it slowly. It was like a bang, you’re a new guitar player, and that’s it.
Interestingly, you’ve always worked as one of the band’s songwriters along with the guitarist role. Was it something you definitely wanted to do as well?
Sascha: Yeah, that was kind of the job description. So, in the beginning, it was like we wanted to have someone we can get along with Michael. He can, of course, play guitar but, of course, can write songs as well. So that was the job description for the first record, at least.
So you mentioned how important it was to get along with Michael. Some former members say “different” things about Michael, but is he really that difficult of a person to get along with after all?
Sascha: I don’t think he’s difficult. I think he is special. When it comes to me, I like special people. I don’t like when “darling type of people”, because most of the time there are no real darlings. They’re good to play, darlings, but Michael has a good heart. Of course, he’s strange, but I like his style. I like that, and he makes me laugh, and I think he’s funny. Of course, he makes those jokes with a serious face on him, and I do the same. So people sometimes don’t get behind it. Maybe it’s sad. I don’t know. I like it when people are more inconvenient. It’s easy to get along with him. Also, maybe some former members did not read their job description. Because, of course, if you joined Helloween after Kai Hansen, you’re always like the second guitar player. That’s a matter of fact. So they’re legends; they started it. So Michael started it with Hansen together. Of course, you will never take their places, and if you don’t get it, you must be pretty dumb.
Helloween is known, not only for good songs and great albums but also for the fact that the band has made many big changes in its line-up. You didn’t worry about the band’s history when you decided to join the band?
Sascha: As a matter of fact, it’s not that I was proposing for the job. So it’s not that I was like, they’re searching for a guitar player. I want to have this job. So it just came to me in a way. Back when I started playing with the band, fans didn’t want to hear that. Because they wanted to hear a nice story like you’ve been a fan of the band forever and now you join your heroes. That was not the fact; the fact was I didn’t want to play this kind of music at the moment when they called me up. I never knew that they were searching for a new guitar player. It just came to me in a way, and it was like a big screen taking me away.
So you had no any pressure then?
Sascha: No, no. It was just a journey, and I was like, I’ll try it. There was no pressure at all.
RECORDING OF RABBIT DON’T COME EASY
Let’s talk a bit more about the recording session of your first Helloween album; RABBIT DON’T COME EASY. Like said, the band had problems with drummers at the time, and at the end, Motorhead’s Mikkey Dee played most of the drums on the album. How was it to work with him?
Sascha: It was amazing. Of course, everything was new anyway, but having this great drummer playing on the record was amazing. Of course, it was a lot of fun. Watching him come there and spitting out some black stuff in the corners. He’s a nice guy too. So musically, it was a great show anyway then.
I interviewed Mikkey some years ago, and then we discussed this recording session, and he said that it was one of the hardest things to do ever because he hadn’t played that type of stuff in a long time.
Sascha: He was pretty good with it.
Originally you had Mark Cross named your new drummer, but he got sick or something and only played on a couple of tracks on the album. What really did happen with him?
Sascha: Yeah. He was this party guy. He was doing a lot of partying and stuff. So for some reason, he got some… What is it called? He got this flu and stuff, and he didn’t have the power to play when it was about to record the album. So we had to get Mikkey to get the job done. Then we were obviously searching for someone who can do the job for a long time and have a real drummer in the band. Mikkey was, of course, with Motorhead so that he couldn’t join the band. We had to find someone. So Michael came up with Stefan Schwarfmann.
I actually saw a couple of Helloween shows with Stefan in the band. I remember seeing at least Helsinki and Sweden Rock shows in that year. In fact, I interviewed Stefan in Helsinki then. But anyway… your collaboration with him didn’t last too long, and he was soon replaced by the current drummer Dani Loble.
Sascha: Yeah, it came out. It wasn’t his type of music, actually. He was like… with Accept; you don’t have to play this very fast double bass. For a drummer, it must be your dream to play that kind of music. As for Daniel, for example, he’s a sports guy. He likes the sports effect, the drumming as playing in Helloween. For him, it’s for nutrition, and everything he does is about this job. So he takes it seriously, as a sportsman. Stefan, he’s a great hard rock and heavy rock drummer. He’s a straightforward drummer, and he fits perfectly for Accept, but it came out that he was not really able to do that all double bass stuff all the time.
I had the same feeling when I saw those shows back then. He was kind of struggling through the shows.
Sascha: He was always on edge, and then, of course, it’s not fun for you to be on edge all the time. So he figured it out himself, that it was maybe not a good decision to do that type of music.
Yeah, I agree, and Dani’s a much better fit for the band. But anyway, RABBIT DON’T COME EASY was kind of a new beginning for the band. It must have been a great way to start your career with the band.
Sascha: Yes, and it’s a classic album now. Somehow the album is a classic now, and it’s great.
THE NEW ERA AND MUSICAL INFLUENCES
The next album you did was KEEPER OF THE SEVEN KEYS: THE LEGACY, and that’s a classic album in my book. At that point, Helloween was a stable band again, and you had already spent two years with the band. So it must have been really different to work that album compared to the RABBIT album?
Sascha: Absolutely, absolutely. You can say that’s the first album for this lineup. So that’s like if you would count, cut out like the band’s former band work. You could see that was the start of the Helloween you know nowadays.
Sometimes it’s really risky to touch something classified as a “classic” like the early KEEPER albums, but I think you succeed quite well with THE LEGACY.
Sascha: Yeah, yeah.
I think it’s a classic album now, but how was your relationship with the original KEEPER albums when those came back in the day?
Sascha: Actually, I only knew three songs, “Laughs.” I knew “March of Time” was the first one. But back in the day, we had those. You will remember that there were mixed tapes you get from people. I was doing a mixtape. Do you want to have it? You have to stop, tape that, record a new copy, and the mixtape of each other. I had some hard rock mixtape along with some Scorpions and Dokken stuff when I started playing guitar. There were songs like “March of Time,” “Dr. Stein,” and “Future World.” These were the songs I knew from Helloween, but I didn’t know it was Helloween back then. So it was just three songs on the mixtape.
Those Helloween songs were just some good songs for you?
Sascha: Yeah, yeah. I figured out later that “Dr. Stein” is a Helloween song because they had some German magazine, Bravo. They had a lyrics section from “Dr.Stein,” so they translated it to German. So that’s when I remembered the band. But first of all, in school, I thought it might be some thrash metal band or something because of the artwork and stuff. When I started playing guitar, I was more into the beautiful long hair guys playing hard rock music. I was more into Vivian Campbell playing with Whitesnake, Adrian Vandenberg, and stuff like that. So that kind of band came up, came across me like very thrash looking type of band. So I wasn’t too much into that kind of music. Just to let you know like Pretty Maids was the hardest band I could listen to back then. Nowadays, it’s a bit different because you get used to Pretty Maids work, but back then, they were pretty hard for me to listen to because they were so heavy. “Laughs”
Yeah, I love their FUTURE WORLD album.
Sascha: It was really heavy, and he was just like, Ronnie Atkins wasn’t singing. He was more just shouting. It was hard and heavy stuff for me. So I wasn’t much into thrash and death metal and speed metal bands.
So you probably never went to see shows of those bands either but did you ever see Helloween live back in the day?
Sascha: No, no. Not at all, just on the magazines. When I turned to Freedom Call, I get to know that Helloween is like the biggest power metal band or the biggest speed metal band. Freedom Call was the first band that showed me double bass music. Back in the day, I was more into Toto and Saga and other AOR bands and fusion, jazz-rock, and stuff like that. I also liked Chicago a lot.
Andi Deris mentioned to me that you were also a fan of his old band Pink Cream 69?
Sascha: Yeah. Pink Cream, yeah. They were a hairband as well. Yeah, yeah.
And he said that they teach you how to play their songs “Laughs.”
Sascha: Yeah, a couple of songs. The style of riffing and stuff.
When was that actually?
Sascha: It must have been in 1992 or ’91. So my uncle gave me all those records he liked, and it was already old, because when I started up playing guitar—the whole Nirvana, Pearl Jam, etc. The Grunge scene came on, and I was kind of an old school guy then because I was listening to that old music. So I was like the only guy in school who was listening to that stuff. So I was listening to Pink Cream and Pretty Maids and Bonfire and MSG. I would say MSG and Dokken were my primary influence for playing guitar. You can say that Pink Cream was kind of a Van Halen, Dokken type of music. But I didn’t start with rock music at all. When I started, I was more into pop music and a bit of new wave. So I liked this old stuff; Phil Collins, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, and Lisa Dalbello.
That was mainstream music back then.
Sascha: It was mainstream music then, and I was into the mainstream, and I was a keyboard player. I was more into… Actually, I wanted to be a synthesizer player when I started off. I’m still a huge fan of synthesizer music.
There is nothing wrong with that, and I also like bands like Toto, etc.
Sascha: Depeche Mode was a great band back then.
COMPARISION BETWEEN THE ALBUMS
After THE LEGACY, you released the albums GAMBLING WITH THE DEVIL, 7 SINNERS, and STRAIGHT OUT OF HELL. I would say that those are all good albums; there are a couple of gems like “Nabataea,” “World of Fantasy,” and “As Long As I Fall.” But at the same time, those albums sound a bit generic to me, but it’s just my opinion.
Sascha: For me personally, the GAMBLING era was very special, and GAMBLING is my favorite milestone as a guitarist. So I was more focused on guitars, and it was maybe the first of those stable albums. I wouldn’t call them generic. I would say stable. Of course, after THE LEGACY, what can you do after an album like that? We also wanted to show that the band is stable and can deliver stable quality. We didn’t have a real plan behind it, so that was just music that came out of this lineup by the time. THE GAMBLING was the first of those three albums. So it was, for me, like the first after THE LEGACY, the first stable album.
I have to say, when I first heard the new album, MY GOD-GIVEN RIGHT, I thought that it’s your best album easily since THE LEGACY, and it’s overall one of my favorites from the Andi era. My favorite from that era is definitely MASTER OF THE RINGS, followed by THE LEGACY, but this is easily the third best. With this album, you go back to the ’80s style, and there’s it’s much more melodic stuff, easy and catchy hooks, etc. It’s not generic at all. Do you know what I mean?
Sascha: Yeah, yeah.
Was that something you did on purpose?
Sascha: Yeah. We wanted to go back to the ’80s type of recordings. We used ’80s gear as well, like old guitars from the time, and we wanted to have a bit rawer. With more concentrating on the song, more focus on the songs and choruses.
One of the main tracks of the album is “Heroes,” which is written by you. In my opinion, it’s one of the best tracks you have ever written for Helloween. So say something about that one?
Sascha: First of all, thank you. That song came out pretty easily; that’s a funny thing. Like you’re concentrating on songs, and you want to make the best song you ever did. You’re putting out all your energy and put it into the song, and then, in the end, nobody wants it on the record or something. That happens all the time. Then you have the song, like one afternoon you have this idea. I was like, wow! I have this melody and the lyrics already. I was like, wow! I must do a song, and it was like a couple of hours, making the demo for a song. Freestyle of guitar riff and everything, and it came out very, very easily. Actually, Charlie didn’t want to have the song on the record at all, first of all. He was like, that’s maybe a weak song. I don’t know. I’m not sure yet. Our manager told me; no, no. I think it’s a strong song. Let’s record it and see how it’s done after.
Wasn’t that song actually recorded originally much earlier?
Sascha: No. We recorded fresh, but it shouldn’t land on the record first. Charlie was like. I don’t think it’s really a strong song. Then it was funny that it turned out in the end to be a pretty strong song. Markus, our label boss, chose that song to be number one on the record.
Somehow when you mentioned Dokken and all those bands, I can hear lots of ’80s influences on that track.
Sascha: It’s pretty straightforward.
The chorus sounds like classic ’80s hard rock.
Sascha: Yeah, yeah.
HELLOWEEN IN THE ’90s
On this tour, you have added a lot of songs from the ’90s, which is great. How do you like that band’s era, starting from MASTER OF THE RINGS to THE DARK RIDE?
Sascha: I like them very much. I think they’re unique. So they’re different, and you can see the same story goes on. Like MASTER OF THE RINGS was very polarizing the fans, of course, and Andi brought in a lot of new fans. He was writing a lot of stuff on that record. So I think it wasn’t a real Helloween record compared to KEEPERS, of course. It was totally different, but it was unique, in my opinion. It also started off as a pretty stable lineup for some time as well, and they did like three really good records after that or two, with that three records.
But they did four albums during that era…
Sascha: They did four, but three good ones, in my opinion.
Which one you don’t like?
Sascha: I wouldn’t say I don’t like it. I would say it’s not Helloween. THE DARK RIDE album is obviously not a real Helloween album for that lineup. So that lineup started with MASTER OF THE RINGS and BETTER THAN RAW as well. Those records are standing for that lineup back then. THE DARK RIDE is something different, which is not a true Helloween record. You can hear that if you listen to those two Michael Weikath songs on the record, which are sticking out of the rest. They do not fit into the record somehow. It gives me the real feeling, also knowing the behind the scene stuff. That it’s a pretty well-constructed record with good songs on it, I like the record. But I don’t think it’s a great record from that lineup. MASTER OF THE RINGS is more that lineup, and BETTER THAN RAW is more that lineup, THE TIME OF THE OATH is more that lineup, but THE DARK RIDE is something else. Which means that it’s not my favorite, I like it very much. Actually, I was amazed when I heard that record in the beginning, because I was like, that’s the music they’re doing now. I went totally into it because it was modern and I liked the types of songs. It had nothing to do with the Freedom Call, double bass, and childish melodies. But now knowing the history of the band, knowing all the other records. I said; it’s not really Helloween record.
I know that Weiki hates that album…
Sascha: I think he’s a bit harsh about it now. It’s a really good album. It’s a very good album. There are very good songs on it, and I always like to play songs from that album. But I think historically; the album didn’t fit that lineup. Maybe that album would have done better with this lineup and in between these, like you said, “generic albums.” You can see that that record was the end of that lineup musically.
I remember when I saw that lineup playing in Sweden Rock on that tour, and it wasn’t that great performance. It was easy to see that everything was not right with the band anymore. The atmosphere on stage was almost freezing between some band members. I think that’s one of the reasons why Michael didn’t like the album at all, and maybe Roland was taking too big a role in the band or something?
Sascha: I don’t think it’s about the role. I think it’s about the music and the direction of the band. He didn’t like that atmosphere. It was too dark and too evil for him, for his feeling. Of course, the fan’s feeling was just rolled in the same direction. Doing that record without behind the scenes feelings they had. So that’s actually the thing he hates about that. So maybe he would like the album from any other band but not his own. That’s why I was saying it’s a good album, but it’s not a real Helloween album. Like the RABBIT DON’T COME EASY wasn’t a real Helloween album because there was no real band at the moment. It was not, and there was no real band anymore with THE DARK RIDE album. It still is good music, but it’s not a good Helloween album.
You said that you never followed Helloween too much back in the day but do you remember when Michael Kiske left the band? It was big news back then.
Sascha: I remember only when Andi joined Helloween, so I wasn’t following Pink Cream for quite some years back then. Then friends of mine told me; hey, Andi Deris of Pink Cream is joining Helloween. I was like, what? How should that work? That was kind of strange, and I saw some pictures. Andi was having dark hair or something. But it was later, right?
Yeah, that was during BETTER THAN RAW in 1998.
Sascha: So I didn’t follow the whole scene; actually, I didn’t even follow the scene until I joined Freedom Call. So Freedom Call brought me into the heavy metal scene, more or less.
Maybe this is not even worth asking, but I’ll still do it; how do you like the CHAMELEON album?
Sascha: CHAMELEON? I didn’t know it before I joined the band. I didn’t know anything about Helloween, except those songs I had on the mixtape.
Yeah, yeah. But later on, you have heard the album, right?
Sascha: It’s the same story. Like the end of some lineup. So I would say, people, watch out for some strange Helloween record. If that comes up, something will change “Laughs” You can tell; it’s the same story. It’s a different type of album and music, and after that, the lineup is gone.
Michael told me once that he actually loves that album, but the fans hated it, and changes had to be made.
Sascha: I don’t even know if fans hated it, you can’t count the fans writing on the Internet. That’s not the opinion of all fans, and I couldn’t say that. Of course, it wasn’t the best-selling record, and it was not the best-selling tour. This means that the original Helloween fans didn’t like it. Maybe they could have grown some new fans from that music if they have stayed in that direction. I don’t know. But if you take the whole history, I’m still an outsider sometimes. I’m watching it from a different perspective, even though I’m a band member. But I have always just kind of from an outside perspective. Because after a long history and watching this. I think every step, they didn’t plan this. But every step was the right step for that time. Even taking myself joining the band, back then and I didn’t know what would happen. But on doing THE LEGACY album, people went; if they’re doing this, they’re dead. They can’t do something like that. They’re ruining the band’s legacy etc. But it worked in a way. We used something like comic covers, which I’m personally not a big fan of. But people like it. So it works, and for some reason, this band has some magic, which is evolving, and we don’t steal that. We have good management, which is leading us here and there. Taking us back on track. But things just happen to us, and I like that, actually. I like that not everything is planned, and things just happen. Of course, in your word, “generic” albums, there comes these three, but it maybe was the right direction to make an album like this new one?
One thing which is always present with Helloween is humor, and it’s actually a huge part of the band’s image and presence. Avantasia’s/Edguy’s Toby Sammet was in Finland a few weeks ago, and then we discussed various topics, including German humor, which is strongly present with Edguy as well. But Tobias surprised me by saying that there’s no such thing as German humor. What do you think about that?
Sascha: It’s funny that Tobias says that because he’s one of the funniest people ever. Yeah, that’s interesting. Of course, if I watch German TV, I can laugh about nothing very much or very often. Maybe he means that. There are a lot of Germans with great humor. I would say that.
And with Helloween, the humor is always present, starting from the album covers and stuff. Like the new album cover, which looks just insane. “Laughs”
Sascha: It’s a farce in a way sometimes, and we like to overdo stuff, which nobody would do. It’s like you can take it, but it’s sometimes almost too funny for heavy metal fans. The band was doing it when I started out, and we’re still doing it. What makes adults doing cartoon covers? It’s kind of weird, but it’s a farce, and it’s funny.
But like you said, there’s a risk that things someday go too close to Spinal Tap? “Laughs”
Sascha: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. That’s the way we are. So being pretty serious about what we’re doing, but then, in the end, we’re not. Not even on stage.
I almost forgot this one important question. One of our readers wants to know why you’re changing your style so often. You had a heavy metal look and long dark hair on the last tour, but now you look like a member of some boyband? “Laughs”
Sascha: I get bored, always looking the same. It’s funny that people talk so much about it. So I know there are people out there who think long hair is a good guitar player, short hair is a bad guitar player. I don’t care. Also, I like to be that controversial and tease the metal scene. It’s my sense of humor to look different and play in one of the biggest metal bands from Germany. I know a lot of people would have loved to have my job in the band. Who are totally into that, with long hair and they’re fans. But maybe that got me the job that I’m not that type of person. If you know of the band members and know them all, nobody actually is a real heavy metal fan like a heavy metal fan stereotype. Michael is not a real heavy metal guy, and Andi is coming from a hard rock background. He was this beautiful boy with blond hair, and it’s not like really heavy metal. Markus, he’s coming from punk bands and punk scene. So I think it’s pretty funny that we have different backgrounds, and fans are talking about looks and stuff.
But that’s probably because Michael and Markus have looked the same, like 35 years?! “Laughs”
Sascha: Yeah, yeah. Michael changed a bit a year ago, yeah. Of course, it’s not the ’80s anymore, and many younger bands now have short hair. I’m thinking like… I have now been 13 years in Helloween. Maybe it needs like another 10 years on people getting used to it. That the look is changing “Laughs” It’s something which is not planned, it just happens. Of course, our manager is sometimes having hard times and then goes like, what did you do? “Laughs”
Do you still work on your own studio when you are not on tour with Helloween?
Sascha: I don’t have it anymore for a long time. No, no. Or actually, I have one at home. So I have one like mixing room, I record my demo stuff there as well. But I’m not into recording bands anymore. So sometimes I’m mixing records here and there, but I don’t like to work as much with other artists as I did back then. So it was kind of sucking up my energy, and it takes a lot of time.
Charlie has produced all Helloween albums that you’ve been involved in. Have you ever felt that it could be a good idea to try working with other producers or with outside people?
Sascha: That’s a difficult story because I love to work with Charlie. Me personally, I love to work with him. Of course, it would be refreshing having a different sound, maybe one day. But in the end, it’s about getting an album done in three months now. It’s not anymore like in the ’80s. Record companies coughing up millions of… Now you must finish your record in like two, three months and you need someone who can handle all those personalities in the band, of course. Sorting out songs and stuff and making a complete record. Charlie does it really well. He’s maybe not the most creative producer, but he’s the best working producer I know.
That probably answered my earlier comment about “generic” sound on few Helloween albums?
Sascha: Maybe, yeah. Of course, you have this kind of sound, going through all these records, which may make it pretty generic for some people. But for us, it’s more stable.
It’s the same thing for many producers. For example, one of the current top metal producers is Andy Sneap. Whatever band he’s producing, it has started to sound the same. I listened to the latest Accept album, then I switched over to the latest Saxon album, and the sound was almost identical. “Laughs”
Sascha: I love his sound; actually, I love his sound. I think his sound would do well with Helloween as well. But on the other hand, Charlie is already kind of a family member. He has other qualities that people don’t have that other people don’t have. So he’s getting really along with me, and also the same also goes for me. As a producer, you have to get along with Michael Weikath, and he must like you. Michael loves Charlie, and Charlie knows how to handle him. He knows his sense of humor. You have to handle all these characters. We’re all pretty strong characters in the band now. Having someone like him and having a stable output is more important for us now than doing some excursion. You know what I mean in any other sound fields. That’s more important for a band to be stable. People know what they get if they buy a new Helloween album.
That’s true, but I still say that MY GOD-GIVEN RIGHT sounds really different to its predecessors, so Charlie is capable of surprising as well.“Laughs”
Sascha: Of course, but that album has a different approach as well. Charlie is coming from a different background, really, and he was not. When he was young, he wasn’t into heavy metal music, which makes it interesting because if you listen to Helloween among other bands or in between other bands. It sticks out all the time, and maybe if you listen from one record to the other Helloween record, maybe it’s not generic. But listening in between other metal bands sticks out all the time. His sound is special. You may like it, or you may hate it, but it’s special. Somehow it always sticks out, and it’s different. Sometimes he has really nice ideas, for example, we have this… What is it called? I must know, I wrote this song. This ballad, “Like Everybody Else.” That was a song we recorded the album before, like two albums before, actually, I think. Not with the album before 7 SINNERS, that was two albums before. We decided to have no ballad on the record on the 7 SINNERS album. So we recorded drums and everything already. When we did this album, they were like, we have this beautiful ballad still. But he was; I want to do something else, something out of the whole typical hard rock metal ballads. So he came up with this country style of guitar playing. So we deleted all like Western guitars we had. We had like acoustic guitars, and there was a pretty classic ballad, and you had like the strings. It was like a typical Helloween, Scorpions like a ballad. So he came like, do something else. Let’s try something else, let’s make more kind of clean guitar riff with that ballad. So we left the drums as they were, we recorded everything new. Which made it, in the end, a beautiful ballad, and that’s something you can do with Charlie because he thinks out of the box. It’s not like make another generic heavy metal ballad. So he’s there for a reason, and we want him to stay there for a reason. Of course, yeah. A lot of things you can do. You can produce with Charlie, and someone else is doing the mixing, or the mastering process, or whatever it is. Or you can get people to give their stamp to the record as well, with some like instruments or whatever. When we got Matias, the keyboard player, he gave the band a good stamp. With THE LEGACY album, we had my musical mentor actually, Elf Hill. Who gave the album a bit of magic as well? Sometimes, it’s just like one musician who comes in for additional stuff, which gives it a bit more spice.
THE LAST QUESTIONS
How are your touring plans in the near future? You have this European tour to finish, but what’s going to happen after that?
Sascha: We fly to Miami to play on that Monsters of Rock Cruise. So we’re going to play there, and then we’re doing some dates in Canada and the US. Then we will have a break, and then we play a couple of festivals again, we will do festivals, and we will play Japan in the summer. Then we might have a break, a longer break for the end of the year. Then we will see what’s going to happen.
And when you’re going to start writing for the next Helloween album?
Sascha: Next year, yeah. But I don’t know yet. First, we have to tour, and then we will see what’s going to happen. Of course, we did albums like every year, touring, album, touring, and album. Maybe we might take a longer break?
Have you ever thought about making a solo album or form a side project when you are not busy with Helloween?
Sascha: Yeah, I always do something on the side. But if I do something on the side, I wouldn’t do it under the same name, and I wouldn’t do the same type of music because I’m already doing that type of music. So why should I make it like any other…? If we’re doing side projects, it’s the same stuff that we do with their main band. Why should we do that? From the creative side, it wouldn’t give me any pleasure.
Maybe you should try to do some synthesizer stuff, which you loved back in the ’80s?
Sascha: Yeah, it would be a great idea. But as I said earlier, I would never officially do that on that name. So I would do it on a different name, and I would not tell anyone from the scene. So that would be more fun for me. It’s like a bit of acting, doing something different, and then starting it from zero like a young band. That’s what I would do. Starting from zero like a young band, and people don’t know who I am.
So the fans should keep their eyes open and check out all-new strange bands coming out from Germany? “Laughs”
Sascha: Yeah, they can do that. If someone would ask me, I would never agree that I do something like that because Sascha Gerstner is playing with Helloween, so that’s it.
Okay, I think this is all by now. Thank you!
Sascha: Thank you!
HELLOWEEN LIVE PICTURES FROM THE CIRCUS, HELSINKI 2016